On Tuesday, as President Obama, on his first state visit to the UK, was welcomed by the Queen at Buckingham Palace, campaigners from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign were outside, on the Mall, making a noise about the need to secure the return to the UK of the last British resident, Shaker Aamer, as I discussed in an article on Monday, During State Visit by Barack Obama, Amnesty International Asks David Cameron to Call for Return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer.
As can be seen from the accompanying photo (click on it to enlarge), they did such a good job that the Associated Press noticed, and the story of the plucky protestors, included at the end of an AP report, went around the world, picked up on by countless newspapers. What the AP said — which was excellent apart from the mistaken use of the past tense — was:
[E]ven at Buckingham Palace, it’s impossible to banish all the discordant notes. Just beyond the palace’s black-and-gold gates, about a dozen orange-jumpsuit clad demonstrators were rallying for the freedom of Guantánamo Bay detainee Shaker Aamer, a former British resident who had been held without charge for some nine years. One man wore plastic shackles and an Obama mask.
Although Shaker’s return to the UK has been mooted since August 2007, when Gordon Brown, shortly after replacing Tony Blair as Prime Minister, asked for the return of all the remaining British residents, Shaker, the father of four British children, whose wife is British, continues to suffer in Guantánamo, apparently beyond the reach of Britain’s best diplomats. Last year, it emerged that the Labour government had done little to secure his return, but in recent months both William Hague, the foreign secretary, and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, have raised his case with the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Yet still, astonishingly, he is held, even though the British government needs to conclude a financial settlement with him, as it did with 15 released prisoners last November, and even though the Metropolitan Police are investigating his claims that British agents were in the room when he was being tortured by US forces in Kandahar, Afghanistan. In addition, the PM’s much-vaunted inquiry into British complicity in torture abroad cannot begin until the Met has completed its investigations — or, it should be noted, until Shaker Aamer, a key witness to British wrongdoing, is back in the UK.
The day after the protest outside Buckingham Palace, as President Obama addressed Parliament, Faris Aamer, Shaker’s youngest son, who has never seen his father, spoke publicly about his suffering. In a statement directed to the President, Faris said:
I am nine years old and I never met my daddy. At school I get bullied a lot, they say bad things about my daddy, and I become very upset and cry. I am telling you my problem because you are the only one who can bring him back. I feel sorry for my dad because he gets tortured I have never seen him and I want to really see him and only you can let him free so please let him free I want to play with him so let him free.
Shaker’s other children, Johina, Michael and Saif, added:
We were relieved at your closing Guantánamo Bay Prisons program, but we are very sad that Guantánamo did not close at the time you promised. Please we want our father to come home. I hope you understand because you are a father yourself of two daughters. Our father has been there for almost 10 years. Our father loves us very much and we are dying to see him. We don’t understand why he has not been sent home even though he is cleared for release. We would remain ever thankful to you if you help us. Our family is going through a lot of hardship.
During the President’s state visit, supporters of Shaker Aamer’s return (and that of Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who lived in the UK before he took an ill-advised holiday to Pakistan and was seized and sent to Guantánamo) sent a letter to David Cameron calling on the Prime Minister to raise Shaker Aamer’s case with President Obama during the state visit. The text of the letter, and its many signatories, which was submitted to the Guardian and the Independent, but passed over for publication, is published below:
President Obama’s visit to the UK offers this government a unique opportunity to demand the closure of Guantánamo Bay and the release and return to this country of two men still held there with links to the UK. Ahmed Belbacha, who formerly resided in the UK, was cleared for release over four years ago and is at risk of forced return to Algeria, where his life would be in danger. UK resident Shaker Aamer, who has a British wife and children, has been imprisoned without charge for close to a decade. The latter’s case has been raised with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by William Hague and Nick Clegg, but apparently to no avail.
The time has come for David Cameron to take an unequivocal stand by addressing these issues head on with the US president during his visit to the UK.
Daniel Viesnik, London Guantánamo Campaign
Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London
Louise Christian, Christian Khan Solicitors
Ray Silk, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign
Sarah Ludford, Lib Dem MEP for London
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
John McDonnell MP
Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, Bindmans LLP
Ruhul Ahmed and Tarek Dergoul, former Guantánamo prisoners
Omar Deghayes, Legal Director, Guantánamo Justice Centre
Kate Hudson, General Secretary, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Professor Bill Bowring, Research Fellow, University of Essex
Natalia Garcia, Tyndallwoods Solicitors
Tayab Ali, Irvine Thanvi Natas Solicitors
Liz Davies, barrister and Chair of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Anjum Anwar, Dialogue Development Officer, Blackburn Cathedral
Professor Mark McGovern, Department of Social and Psychological Sciences, Edge Hill University
Faisal Hanjra, Assistant Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain
Sultan Sabri, Surrey Solicitors
Lord Ahmed of Rotherham
Councillor Jonathan Bloch, Lib Dem Councillor for Muswell Hill, London Borough of Haringey
Estella Schmid, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities
Maryam Hassan, Justice for Aafia Coalition
Richard Haley, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Katherine Craig, Christian Khan Solicitors
Sarah McSherry, Christian Khan Solicitors
Maria Gallastegui, Peace Strike
Darren Johnson, Green London Assembly Member
Millius Palayiwa, Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, England
Chris Coverdale, Campaign to Make Wars History
Dr Shahrar Ali, Green Party
Noel Hamel, Kingston Peace Council
Joy Hurcombe, Brighton Against Guantanamo
Frances Webber, vice-chair, Institute of Race Relations
Milan Rai, Co-editor, Peace News
Ismail Patel, Chair, Friends of Al-Aqsa
Note: For further information about Ahmed Belbacha, who lived and worked in the UK from 1999 to 2001, was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007, but is terrified of being repatriated, see Lawyers for Ahmed Belbacha, Guantánamo Prisoner and Former UK Resident, Sue UK Government Over Refusal to Disclose Evidence of His Abuse. In addition, readers who wish to do more for Shaker Aamer can find a letter here to William Hague (which I wrote in November), and campaigners can order postcards to William Hague and to Shaker in Guantánamo here. In addition, readers can also follow the links here to encourage their MPs to sign up to an Early Day Motion regarding the closure of Guantánamo and the return of Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha that was introduced by our only Green MP, the excellent Caroline Lucas: Urge Your MP to Sign Caroline Lucas’ Early Day Motion Calling for the Return of Shaker Aamer and the Closure of Guantánamo.
Please also note that the photo at the top of the article, by Mary Stamm-Clarke, was originally published by Demotix. See the website for more of her photos, and also for contact details.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Midge Hough wrote:
You are one sick puppy… you and Glenn Beck would get along really well…
When I see something as asinine as this and also people taking it seriously I have to jump in. I suggest we put a tin foil hat on Andy. It’s all about conspiracty theories…sigh.
Sharon Askew wrote:
Looks like you got a little hate campaign going on here Andy, not sure if they’re referring to the article though, think it’s more about the picture posted above it.
Or maybe it is to do with wanting to keep Guantanamo Bay functioning as it is, you know, with indefinite detention etc etc!?
Ghaliyaa Haq wrote:
Midge: What on earth are you talking about? Glenn Beck is a racist pile of trash with no brain and only a cavernous mouth. He has no idea what he’s talking about, ever. What about this article is trash? Do you realize what this man, Shaker Aamer and his family have gone through so far? Do you understand what kind of a man he is, and the good he has done for his fellow detainees at Guantanamo? Do you know the false charges against him? There is no reason whatsoever that he should be in Guantanamo, much less for this amount of time. Tinfoil hat on Andy? Really? It seems to me that if anyone ought to be wearing one – it may be you. What about this is a conspiracy theory?
How would you feel if it were your husband, the father of your children in this same situation? How would you feel if your son had no memory of his father because he was just a babe in arms when his father was kidnapped? What would you do? Would you not appreciate people standing up for him, writing about him, fighting for him? Or would this be some “conspiracy theory?” I don’t even understand what you see as a conspiracy theory.
Guantanamo is an illegal prison used solely to operate outside the law. In Guantanamo they can do anything they wish, torture, murder, construct kangaroo courts, convince people on hearsay without even showing the defense the “evidence”. What about this strikes you as conspiracy? May God forgive you… I hope this never happens to anyone in your family.
Jez Tucker wrote:
Ghaliyaa: They’re just a bunch of Obama fan girls and boys. Any direct criticism of Obama, or satirisation, is racist; any criticism of Obama’s policies is a conspiracy. They don’t realise that to the rest of the world he’s just another US president talking big but doing very little. It’s irrelevant what colour his skin is.
Jez Tucker wrote:
Keep up the good work Andy.
Andy Worthington wrote:
Thanks, Jez. Great to hear from you. Hope all is well with you and the family.
[...] long-cleared Algerian with ties to the UK — and also that other well-known prisoners — such as Shaker Aamer, the last British resident, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind — were [...]
[...] whose lives have been devastated by the imprisonment of their fathers and family members. You can read here about the children of Shaker Aamer, the youngest of whom has never seen his father who was engaged in humanitarian work [...]
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